Copyright as a phenomenon: exploring the experiences of librarians

copyright experiencesAfter carrying out our large scale survey of copyright literacy amongst UK librarians in December 2014 and then analysing this data, there were many questions that remained unanswered. The survey included mainly quantitative data using closed questions and we always planned to carry out some follow up interviews. There were quite a number of questions that asked librarians about how copyright featured in their professional qualifications and in continuing professional development. Respondents gave us an extensive list of topics they wanted to learn more about related to copyright – however some of their comments also suggested that copyright could be a source of anxiety. We had a sense that our approach of using the Copyright Card Game, this anxiety could be lessened, but it wasn’t clear why it existed in the first place. You can read more about the findings from the survey in the article, we published in Library and Information Research in December 2015.

Late last year after returning from the ECIL conference we started planning how to approach the next phase of the research. I had become increasingly interested in phenomenography, which is a research methodology originating from Swedish educational research. It has been used increasingly in information literacy research, notably by Christine Bruce, Annemaree Lloyd, Helen Partridge and more recently Marc Forster, who is the health rep of the Information Literacy Group. Phenomenography is essentially a qualitative research method to investigate the differences in people’s experiences of a phenomenon. In our case, the phenomenon is copyright, or copyright queries and support in the course of the work of being a librarian. Our sense was that there were some interesting variations in people’s experiences, depending on their role in the library, the knowledge they had of the subject, the support they felt that was available to them and potentially other factors.

In order to test out this methodology we have been conducting focus groups with academic librarians. We have kept the questions as open as possible, but are really interested in how copyright features in the work of different library staff, the range of queries they have to deal with, how providing support for copyright makes them feel, perhaps in contrast to other types of library work and how they learn about copyright and want to learn about it in the future. We will be presenting some interim findings next month at the LILAC conference in Dublin, so watch this space for more details as we are busy analysing the data we have collected so far.

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